Last Sunday I made my way up to Valley, Nebraska (just west of Omaha) for the Freedom Run Half Marathon. There's also a 10k, 5k, and Family mile offered but the main event is definitely the Half.
When I arrived there were volunteers out directing parking and everything looked ready to go. I got to meet Race Director Judy Argintean and she was gracious and well-organized. I was able to grab my bib number quickly, use the locker room inside the Valley YMCA, and warmup on a quiet dead-end street adjacent to the YMCA. The weather was great with temps in the 50's and light winds.
|The Start/Finish Area Pre-Race.|
My expectations for myself were modest going into this race. I had just started training seriously again about 5 weeks before race day and this would be my first race of the fall. I felt like I was probably in 1:14 or 1:15 half shape so I just wanted to run that pace, avoid a meltdown, and build some confidence going into my fall marathon season.
There was a brief ceremony pre-race that looked to my non-military eyes something like a military funeral. Men in uniform, rifles, flags, etc. It was a touch that reminded us what the Freedom Run is about.........honoring service members and those we lost on September 11th in particular.
In any case, we got to the start line and a rifle served as the starting gun. The course leaves the YMCA parking lot and heads probably 400 meters out to the highway where most of the race is run. I immediately fell into 4th place and could tell this would be a lonely run right from the start. But what better way to work on mental toughness than run a half marathon pretty much by yourself?
I trusted my body to set the pace and I settled in at 5:33/mile pace for the first 4 miles or so. The course is basically an out and back on a very flat highway. There is a lollipop through a new construction neighborhood that occupies from the 2 mile mark to about the 3.5 mile mark. Otherwise the course is out and back. Somehow I didn't find it boring, but I had never been to this town before so it was all new to me. The great thing about a course like this is the lack of turns. The bad thing is that if there is any wind, there's no escaping it. We did have a slight headwind on the way back from the turnaround point but I can't blame my slow fall from 5:33 to 5:49 pace on the wind. (Splits below)
I had done very little in the way of quality workouts coming in but was feeling surprisingly good and in control as the miles went by. And while I may have had more in the tank, I'm not sure how much. It was hard to push myself to the max without any other runners near me. Maybe next year we can get a deeper field to run the Freedom Run.
With Nebraska's own "Run Guru" Will Lindgren (his daily blog at www.rungurusays.com is mandatory reading for serious Nebraska runners) in charge of this USATF Certified race course and elite athlete recruiting, I'm sure it will happen.
Lindgren promised the flattest and fastest course that Nebraska has ever seen. And he definitely delivered. The course was well-marked and had plenty of cones along the way. The highway and the shoulder is also pretty flat so you aren't fighting a side-hill the whole way. I've also run the Grand Island (State Fair) Half and I would say that while there aren't any real hills on that course, this Freedom Run course is even flatter. Or at least the Freedom course has far fewer turns to slow you down.
Lindgren also delivered by bringing in a few national-class runners to compete. How he did this with a modest $600 prize purse, I have no idea.
Most notably, Zach Hine of Boulder,CO, who was able to run a 1:04 half marathon and qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the marathon. This appears to be the fastest half marathon on Nebraska soil in over 20 years. Even more impressive is that Zach Hine ran alone without the aid of any pacers (besides one woman on a lead bike) for the first 9 miles or so. At that point Colin Morrisey (Team Nebraska) was brought in to pace Hine from approximately miles 9 through 12.
There was quite a gap behind Hine as Team Nebraska runner Luka Thor took second place in 1:09 and Aaron Davidson of Kansas City took third place in 1:10. I ended up running 1:14 for 4th place.
|Swag Consisted of a Cotton Shirt and Basic Medals.|
The Swag was pretty average including a cotton shirt and some basic medals. But I have enough Dri-Fit shirts anyway. The mini-expo inside the YMCA was a nice touch. I was able to get my legs worked on by a sports chiropractor and grab some snacks at the same time.
Kudos to Will Lindgren and Judy Argintean on a great event. I know that an Olympic Trials Qualifying performance in small-town Nebraska turned some heads in the running world. I hope that translates into people coming out to run the Freedom Run next year.
It would make a great tune-up race before your fall marathon. 2 weeks before Omaha, 4 weeks before Twin Cities, 5 weeks before Chicago and Market to Market, 6 weeks before Des Moines.......
5:33.0 (16:41.2 at 3 mile) (17:17 at 5k)
11:19.7 (miles 4 and 5 together) (28:00 at 5 miles)
5:35.2 (34:44 at 10k)
11:27.7 (miles 7 and 8 together)
5:49.3 (56:42.7 at 10 miles)
5:49.2 (1:08:24 at 12 miles)
(1:10:47 at 20k)
6:16 for last 1.1 miles
1:14:40 at Half Marathon finish.